It’s 9am on a late summer morning, and Leon and I are out in the backyard woefully examining our garden’s fecund bounty.
“Hey, there,” a neighbor calls over the fence. “Want some figs?”
We look at each other. We share two thoughts: fresh garden figs, how lovely! And: fresh garden figs, yet another perishable to protect, somehow, from perishing.
“Of course!” I muster a fake heartiness. “We’d love them.”
And of course we would. But we’d particularly love them if we didn’t have our own buncha too much of everything else. And so, when our neighbor comes around the fence with a colander full of sweet green figs just touched with purple blush, the kind of figs that people are paying $7 a basket for right this very minute, I mount a fierce exchange.
“What can I give you?” I ask with urgency. “What do you need? Tomatoes, basil, eggplant, zucchi—”
She interrupts apologetically: “I’m going out of town.”
“How about some basil?” I press. “You have tomatoes, don’t you? Couldn’t you use some basil?”
Not waiting for her response, I rush into the house and grab a pair of scissors. She watches helplessly as I begin to cut tall, fragrant stalks and gather them into an unwieldy bouquet. As I snip, I understand that the basil loves this kind of pruning and that my unwanted gift will just prompt it to produce more.
“Are you sure you don’t need eggplant? Yellow squash? Peppers?” I pant a little bit, breathless with hope.
“No,” she answers, backing slowly to the gate with her green bouquet. “I’m. Going. Away,” she repeats, as if I’m crazy or something.
Truth is, I am kind of crazy. The weight, the burden, the immense outpouring of certain sections of the garden have made me nuts.
I think about women of yore, furiously working in hot summer kitchens to save, catch, preserve and transform their food for the coming winter months. I know that each plum that hits the ground untasted, each blackberry that withers darkly on the vine, is an insult to hungry people everywhere.
I am by no means alone in the glory of way too much, which has prompted the welcome new trend of online harvest exchanges. In February 2012, Santa Rosa’s Spring Maxfield began the “Farmers’ Black Market” invite-only exchange group on Facebook, which now has over a thousand members. Items are rarely sold, mostly bartered, and produce is by no means the only type of item up for grabs; a few recent examples include offers of wooden spools, kaffir lime leaves and goats for slaughtering.
I read these posts with the rapt fascination of an urban novelist. Six meat goats? Opposed, I suppose, to six milk goats. Should I learn how to slaughter animals? It’s the old-new thing, after all. I wonder what a kaffir tree smells like. What would you do with a box of wooden spools?
Still pondering, I wander into the kitchen, where a small cadre of fruit flies now form a short column above the neighbor’s gift of green figs. Shit.